Improving food and nutrition security

Malawi Village Woman Stirs a Pot while Community Members Gather Around: Mitchell Maher/IFPRI

Benefits of biofortification

By the end of 2015, over 15 million people in Africa, Asia and Latin America were growing and eating biofortified staple food. CGIAR evidence on the impact of biofortification was instrumental in giving national policymakers and investors confidence that biofortification is a highly effective strategy for addressing hunger. Breeding increases nutrient levels sufficiently to improve human nutrition without reducing yield; extra nutrients in the crops improve micronutrient status; farmers are willing to grow biofortified crops and consumers to eat them; and biofortification is cost-effective. A 2015 review by CGIAR and partners of bean nutrition research concluded that beans are a good vehicle for iron biofortification. In addition, results from an iron-rich pearl millet efficacy study demonstrated that the crop can effectively improve iron status in children. A study on the health benefits of biofortified orangefleshed sweet potato (OFSP) in Mozambique showed definitive improvements in child health while reducing stunting, diarrhea and blindness in children under five.

Orange-fleshed sweet potato on the menu in Kenya

The vitamin A in OFSP improves the health of women and children who eat it. But despite the benefits, it can be a challenge to persuade people to include it in their diet. In western Kenya, CGIAR scientists and other project staff worked through the Sweetpotato Action for Security and Health in Africa initiative to test a novel approach,linking attendance at maternity clinics and access to OFSP. Pregnant and lactating  women who attended the clinics were given coupons for OFSP vines for planting, together with better access to health services and nutrition counseling. Over the period 2010–2014, women who grew OFSP and took the advice to eat more vitamin A-rich foods, including OFSP, did not lose as much weight and had fewer babies with problems of stunting and vitamin A deficiency.

Fast-tracked wheat varieties resist radical disease

Despite the threat of deadly droughts and rapidly evolving pathogens faced by Ethiopia’s wheat sector, a partnership with CGIAR succeeded in raising national production from 1.6 million tonnes in 2003–04 to around 3.9 million tonnes in 2013– 14. This was done by teaming up with the Ethiopian Institute of Agricultural Research to develop, release, multiply and spread the seed of wheat varieties resistant to stem rust. Farmers quickly adopted the new varieties, resulting in a significant increase in their net incomes: from US$200 to $250/ha. A study in Food Policy showed that adopting improved wheat varieties increased the number of food-secure households in Ethiopia by 2.7% and reduced chronic food insecurity by 10%.

Managing a devastating banana disease

A new technique is drastically reducing the spread of the deadly Xanthomonas banana wilt. Much simpler than the previous labor intensive process, the technique can reduce disease from 90% to less than 1% in 6–10 months. Called single diseased stem removal, it was developed in a collaboration between CGIAR and national partners in Central and Eastern Africa. The pilot site in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo now serves as a demonstration farm, where more than 500 representatives of government agencies, NGOs, farmer associations and individual farmers have lear ned about the technique.